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By unknown | Jan 07, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

l Myth number one: "Over the last decade South Africa has witnessed 'unprecedented' growth."

l Myth number one: "Over the last decade South Africa has witnessed 'unprecedented' growth."

It is true that since 1994 there have been 14 years of successive growth.

Between 1994 and 2003 it averaged 3 percent and between 2004 and 2007 5 percent. It is likely to dip again to about 3 percent.

While sustained moderate growth is not a negligible achievement, we should remember it is growth relative to the deep ditch into which white minority rule had finally driven the economy by the early 1990s.

During the last decade of apartheid there was zero growth for most years. To produce growth out of this low-point did not require rocket science.

Moreover, a decade of growth is far from "unprecedented". Between 1963 and 1973 the apartheid economy grew for a decade at an average of 7 and 8 percent.

This should remind us that economic growth does not tell us who is benefiting or even whether a high growth rate is good or bad for the majority.

lMyth number two: "We have managed our economy well since 1994."

The last decade and a half has coincided with a huge surge in global growth. Over the last years in particular there has been a major commodity boom that has benefited most of our key exports.

With a prolonged global recession in sight and with slackening demand for commodities, we must ask ourselves whether we have used the boom years to place our economy on a sound, sustainable and more equitable basis or have we squandered the opportunity?

We would have to admit that in many respects we have lost opportunities. The changed global reality does not make change impossible, it makes it more necessary. But transformation will be more challenging.

lMyth number three: "All the basic economic fundamentals are in place . (and shouldn't be tampered with!)"

The smug complacency about what has been achieved is basically a class complacency.

For South African monopoly capital the past 15 years have been of great profitability, of a widening gap between executive salaries and wages paid to workers.

It has been a decade of opportunities to disinvest out of South Africa.

For workers the period has seen retrenchments initially soar and then level off into largely jobless growth.

Unemployment is stuck at about 33 to 35 percent.

lMyth number four: "Owing to sound economic management, South Africa is a safe haven in the current global turmoil."

In its 78th annual report, published in June 2008, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) rated South Africa (with Turkey, the Baltic states, Hungary and Romania) as one of the states most at risk in the current turbulent global reality.

We should not accept the finding as gospel because the BIS failed to predict the impending scale of bank failure in the US - but it should make us pause for thought.

The finding was based in particular on South Africa's precarious current account situation (difference between export earnings and import expenditures).

Since the report, our current account deficit has worsened. In October 2008 our trade deficit widened to R7,1bn, largely as a result of a R2,2bn increase in imports of machinery and electrical appliances.

On a cumulative basis from January to September, the deficit stood at R62bn compared with R55bn in the same period in 2007.

lMyth number five: "Our financial sector is healthy."

Though our financial institutions appear to be well regulated and have not been as severely exposed to toxic loans as their global counterparts, they have not been entirely immune.

Standard Bank has some exposure to derivative share-holdings and Old Mutual lost more than R13 billion when its shares in Bear Sterns turned out to be almost worthless.

Can we boast of a healthy financial sector when household debt has quadrupled to more than R1,1trillion in the past five years? When more than 6million South Africans can't pay their debts? When, in the first quarter of 2008, we spent 82,3 percent of income on household debt compared with 60,2 percent in 1998? And when 6000 vehicles and 2000 homes are repossessed every month?

l Nzimande is general secretary of the SA Communist Party and Cronin is his deputy. This is an edited version from Extracts of the South African Communist Party political report.


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